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Who gets the middle?

February 26, 2013

Let’s see. Rush Limbaugh is ashamed of America. Other conservative pundits like Bill O’Reilly say we have become a nation of takers. The President thinks there are too many rich folks and making them less rich or even poor will fix everything. In the middle of those two ideologies are the independents.

Depending on whose poll you look at, from 30 to 40 per cent of Americans self-identify themselves as independent voters. Gallup’s most recent poll of February 26, 2013 reports that 38% identify themselves as independents while 28% self-identify as Republicans and 32% as Democrats.[1]  This is the middle.

Since there is usually no middle of the road choice for the independents to vote for, they obviously have to choose one side or the other when it comes time to vote. Historically they have tended to “lean” slightly left of the middle, as shown in the poll referenced above.

With rare exception, Americans don’t vote for or against grand ideals. There is always a far right “sink-or-swim” segment that thinks no one should get any government help and believes that all government programs other than roads, bridges and defense should be dropped from the budget. The far left believes that we should all be supported by the government, and to that end tries very hard to capture as much private wealth as possible in the name of “equality”. They would be more than happy to make Washington D.C. the largest company store in history.

Most people are just practical. They understand intuitively that there have to be some support systems for those that can’t care for themselves, while still understanding that there is a limit to how much they can afford to “give” Washington without becoming part of that demographic themselves.

How they vote is going to depend on where they are in their lives. If the majority feels insecure, they are going to try to identify the cause of that insecurity and eliminate it. The political party that gives them the most acceptable target is the one that gets their vote. Right now, most people feel insecure and they are angry at the most convenient reason for that insecurity.

In the latest political cycle, the Democrats have done the best job of creating the rich and powerful as the villain. It is a lot easier to accept the idea that greedy bankers caused the housing collapse than to admit that the government, responding to pressure from the voters pressured the banks to create sub- prime mortgages. Lenders began to accept fictional incomes to qualify people for mortgages and used those mortgages as negotiable investment vehicles. The banks didn’t do that in a vacuum. Federal law had to permit it for it to happen. The Feds could have required banks to make loan modifications initially, rather than creating a completely new series of government programs to fix it after the fact.

So far, the Republicans have not done a very good job of either redefining the villain or selling people on a policy that doesn’t precipitously strip away the government safety nets they already have in place.

The vast majority of people are practical. The party that best taps into that mentality will be the next winner. Failing to do that will leave the voters no choice but to accept what scares them the least.

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